Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Other People's Mail

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Other People's Mail

Article excerpt

Academic Freedom For All

To President Lee Bollinger, Columbia University, Feb. 20, 2009

ON A NUMBER of occasions since becoming president of Columbia University you have expressed your views in public on questions of academic freedom in the Middle East. Yet you have remained silent on the actions by Israel that deny that freedom to Palestinians.

These actions include Israel's continuing blockade of Gaza, the imposing of barriers, checkpoints, and closures around and within the West Bank that make academic life unworkable, the denial of exit visas to Palestinian scholars offered fellowships abroad or invited to international conferences, including scholars invited to Columbia, and the recent three-week war against Gaza that included not only the bombing of Palestinian schools and colleges, with great loss of life, but the widespread destruction of the material and social fabric on which academic life depends.

We, as Columbia and Barnard faculty, ask you now to make public your opposition to these actions and your support for the academic freedom of Palestinians.

Signed by more than 127 faculty members at Columbia and Barnard Universities.

Palestinian Ghetto

To the International Herald Tribune, Jan. 15, 2009

Comments and letters published by the IHT advocate the rebuilding of Gaza as a means to weaken the Palestinian radicals.

But the make over of a ghetto still leaves a ghetto. Gaza is a place where most inhabitants did not chose to live. Their hardship is a physical and a spiritual one.

Only when Israelis allow Palestinians to live in their midst and enjoy the same level of freedom and prosperity, will peace come to the Middle East. Of course, Israel would then no longer be a Jewish state, and this may be the core of the problem. Israel's founding rationale is Zionist (in the most neutral sense). Can it move on and become a truly secular state?

Ronald Vopel, Brussels

Shifting to the Right in Israel

To The Washington Post, Feb. 19, 2009

Griff Witte's Feb. 14 news story "Israeli Election Reflects Resurgence of the Right" accurately described the rise of the far right in the Israeli election as a "shift away from politicians who emphasize negotiations with Palestinians."

But the assessment was still fundamentally misleading. The same Israeli officials who favor negotiations have always rejected policies that might make those negotiations successful. Throughout 2008, Israel was led by the "centrist" Kadima party, to which Tzipi Livni-known for emphasizing negotiations with Palestinians-belongs. But that year brought even greater settlement construction. Historically, it was Labor-led governments that presided over the heaviest settlement expansion even as their prime ministers visited Washington to "emphasize negotiations."

The rise of the extreme right-especially the explicitly racist right wing of Avigdor Lieberman-is a dangerous development for Israel.

But it might end the illusion that emphasizing negotiations equals stopping settlements. And that just might make possible a new U.S. approach. If President Obama is confronted with an Israeli leader who doesn't even feign an interest in negotiations, it will be much easier for him to consider ending the $3 billion annual U.S. aid that facilitates the continuing expansion of Israel's occupation.

Phyllis Bennis, Institute for Policy Studies, Washington, DC

Criticism Isn't Anti-Semitism

To The Independent, Feb. 20, 2009

Howard Jacobson's hysterical piece that seeks to equate all criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, made me very angry. He objects to the use of the words "massacre" and "slaughter" in reference to the killing of 400 Palestinian children by Israeli tanks, missiles, bombs and bullets, with his opinion that "it is in the nature of modern war." As a former professional soldier with four years on active service, I can categorically inform him, it is not. …

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